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Variation in colony geometry modulates internal light levels in branching corals, Acropora humilis and Stylophora pistillata
Kaniewska, P.; Anthony, K.R.N.; Hoegh-Guldberg, O. (2008). Variation in colony geometry modulates internal light levels in branching corals, Acropora humilis and Stylophora pistillata. Mar. Biol. (Berl.) 155(6): 649-660.
In: Marine Biology. Springer: Heidelberg; Berlin. ISSN 0025-3162, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Kaniewska, P.
  • Anthony, K.R.N.
  • Hoegh-Guldberg, O.

    Colonial photosynthetic marine organisms often exhibit morphological phenotypic plasticity. Where such plasticity leads to an improved balance between rates of photosynthesis and maintenance costs, it is likely to have adaptive significance. To explore whether such phenotypic plasticity leads to more favourable within-colony irradiance for reef-building branching corals, this relationship was investigated for two coral species Acropora humilis and Stylophora pistillata, along a depth gradient representing light habitats ranging from 500 to 25 µmol photons m-2 s-1, during 2006 at Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef (23.44°S, 151.91°E). In the present study changes in flow-modulated mass transfer co-varied with light as a function of depth. In low-light (deep) habitats, branch spacing (colony openness) in A. humilis and S. pistillata was 40–50% greater than for conspecifics in high-light environments. Also, branches of A. humilis in deep water were 40–60% shorter than in shallow water. Phenotypic changes in these two variables lead to steeper within-colony light attenuation resulting in 38% higher mean internal irradiance (at the tissue surface) in deep colonies compared to shallow colonies. The pattern of branch spacing was similar for S. pistillata, but this species displayed an alternate strategy with respect to branch length: shade adapted deep and cave colonies developed longer and thinner branches, allowing access to higher mass transfer and irradiance. Corals in cave habitats allowed 20% more irradiance compared to colonies found in the deep, and had a 47% greater proportion of irradiance compared to colonies in the shallow high-light environment. Such phenotypic regulation of internal light levels on branch surfaces partly explains the broad light niches of many branching coral species.

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